I think every writer starts with a basic scenario, the idea for which may have come from one or more sources. We all have those ideas, gleaned from something we have read or heard.
One of my early novels, for example, started with heroine meeting hero when he becomes Deputy Head at the school where she is a teacher (not that I ever fancied any of the Deputy Heads at the schools where I taught). She’s attracted to him (of course!) and there’s definitely some chemistry between them, but he seems to be fighting it. Why?
Why indeed? Think of a reason. Is she too young for him? Not a strong enough reason. Doesn’t agree with his ideas? Possible but pretty boring. Has he been badly hurt in the past? Maybe, but that’s too conventional. So what if the heroine is the spitting image of the girlfriend/fiancee who ditched him, maybe who had had an affair with his best friend? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
The stage is set. But just where is it set? Have to decide now whether it’s a big city, small town or country village. Originally the above story was set in a seaside town on the south coast of England. Later, as the story progressed, I realised that it needed to be nearer Dover because I wanted them to take the ferry across to France, so I moved them lock, stock and barrel to a different location. That wouldn’t have worked with another of my novels, where the setting (in the English Lake District) was an essential part of the story. I have to confess that I’m happiest when I’m writing about places that I actually know. I once went to Galway in Ireland simply to see and get the feel of the place so as to be able to write about it with more confidence.
Next - what about the characters? The heroine – dark haired, brown or blonde? The hero? Has to be good-looking of course but dark or fair? Somehow the characters take shape in my mind as I think about the storyline. Not just their looks, but their characters too. In the end, I can hear their voices, and see the way they smile and their mannerisms, even the way they walk. They seem to evolve naturally as they become more real to me. I don’t characterise in advance, I rely on the characters to develop themselves.
I know that they’re going to get together in the end (it’s a romance, it has to have a happy ending), but now let’s see what inner feelings and external events will conspire to keep them apart. The journey begins…
By the way, the blurb to the novel I used as my example (created by the publisher, not by me) was:
Anne Marshall was looking forward to continuing her studies in Paris. Then Max Lorimer arrived at Southgate High School, and suddenly the dream seemed unimportant. But he was the Deputy Head and she was only a junior teacher, so he was never likely to take any interest in her. Besides, there was Helen, the girl he should have married. Why then did there seem to be this strange affinity between them? And why did Max seem to be fighting it?